A positive school climate is important to all teachers, but sometimes the school’s leadership is not ready to move forward with a school-wide PBIS program. The great thing about schools is the fact that teachers can start the process of having a positive school climate in their classrooms. A teacher’s attitude and relationship with the students can make all the difference. Key factors in achieving a positive classroom climate are the classroom environment and the teacher’s approach to discipline. Start improving your classroom climate today.
Positive Classroom Environment
The easiest way to begin this process is to make some changes to the classroom environment. Walk into your classroom and try to see it through the eyes of your students. Ask yourself a few questions:
- Is the room inviting, clean, and a place where I want to spend time? Am I welcome here?
- What are the expectations this teacher has for me?
- Do I know what subject/topic this teacher will be teaching me?
- Does the room reflect the teacher’s personality?
These questions are asked subconsciously by each person who walks in the door. Your students are no different. Let’s address each question individually. To feel welcome in a classroom, a student must feel safe and comfortable. Making a classroom welcoming, a teacher can use a theme to coordinate the decorations. Themed decorations can be costly, but they are not completely necessary. A welcoming room is also neat and clean. Working with a limited budget is the norm for most teachers, but keeping a clean, neat, and well-organized classroom costs nothing. If you have the funds to decorate, keep it simple enough that the room does not feel cluttered.
Include items in the room that share your expectations for the students. Posters with classroom rules, consequences, and basic procedures should be on display. Label important items like supply buckets or baskets for completed work. Have a specific location for the day’s objective and write that objective in a student-friendly way. When a student walks in the room, they should be able to look around and figure out what their next step should be. Unless you are a kindergarten, first, or second-grade teacher, your students are used to adjusting to different teachers and expect to learn basic procedures. Make the room clear enough for them to figure it out with little guidance.
When a person walks in the room, they should understand what subject/topic that you teach and have a basic feeling of your personality. Anchor charts of specific skills should be on display or available. Subject-specific supplies or materials should be visible and available. For example, math classes may have rulers, manipulatives, protractors, or calculators. Science classes may have examples of different specimens, microscopes, or safety equipment. English classes may have a library, reading area, or writing center. These subject-specific items will give your classroom a purpose and your students will feel secure.
Finally, your room should reflect your personality. There should be personal touches in the room that make you a real person. A positive classroom climate cannot be achieved if the students do not connect with the teacher in multiple ways. Students should see you as a real person who is there to work with them, not just as an instructor. Put some personal photos out. Include your interests in some of the assignments or decorations. Many teachers play soft music in the background while students are working independently. This music could be another way to connect with your students. These personal touches will help you make a connection with your students without even trying.
Positive Student Interaction
A positive classroom climate begins with the room environment, but the real work comes with the interactions between the teacher and the students. This relationship is the most important part of the process of creating a positive classroom climate. Communication and classroom management are skills that a quality teacher must perfect. Addressing the social-emotional needs of students is a key area of education that may not be taught directly, but is integral in establishing a positive classroom climate. Social-emotional learning can be addressed in numerous ways and several programs can be directly taught in the classroom. EDGEucating has several articles about social-emotional learning. To learn the basics, check out Why Social Emotional Learning Matters and How to Teach It.
Teaching the students to interact more positively is also done by modeling positive behavior. Learning to de-escalate situations will give the students the message that they have an adult who cares about them and can help them with more than just the subject content. The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) is an organization that trains people to prepare for and reduce crisis situations and, therefore, creates a safer environment. The stressors that individuals face can manifest in different ways and it is the job of the teacher to address the students in a way that shows that you understand. CPI offers its Top 10 De-escalation Tips for stressful situations. “These de-escalation tips from CPI are about support, not suppression, and about seeing each other with the humanity and compassion that each of us wants to be seen with.”
These 10 tips can be easily applied to a classroom:
- Be Empathetic and Nonjudgmental- Let the students know that you are meeting them where they are without judgment. Things may seem small to you, but if a child is escalating, then it is big to them. Try to understand.
- Respect Personal Space- Invading personal space is an aggressive action. Determine the need for your physical presence. You may need to be close to the child for safety, but if you don’t, respect their personal space. If you must enter their personal space, explain what you are doing. The child does not need to guess what you are doing.
- Use Nonthreatening Nonverbals- Body language and tone of voice are more important than you may realize. Remain neutral and matter-of-fact. Escalation should not be a reaction to your actions.
- Keep Your Emotional Brain in Check- Remain calm, cool, and collected. Professionalism is the ultimate goal even when students are insulting or threatening with their words or actions.
- Focus on Feelings- The feelings you need to focus on are not yours, they are the child’s feelings. Listen to what they are saying. The words you use should be those of support and encouragement. A child’s behavior is a message to you. Do your best to understand the whole picture.
- Ignore Challenging Questions- Students who are trying to escalate a situation may challenge your authority in different ways. Ignore their challenges and redirect them to the positive choices that they can make.
- Set Limits- Limit the choices that the child can make in the situation. Offer 2 choices and make the consequences simple and clear. If a student is escalating, they may not be thinking rationally; speak in simple declarative sentences.
- Choose Wisely What You Insist Upon- Before you set those limits, ask yourself how much flexibility is acceptable. Because I say so, is not a valid reason for a limit. Be ready for the challenge.
- Allow Silence for Reflection- Silence may be awkward, but time and silence are necessary for the child to reason through the situation. Allow them the opportunity to reflect and not interact with you.
- Allow Time for Decisions- In a classroom setting, this is usually known as wait time. Quality teachers allow for wait time when asking academic questions. Wait time should be allowed during emotional situations also.
Classroom Climate and Goal Setting
Classroom rewards are sometimes limited to elementary schools. This is the easiest thing to change in a classroom. All students want to be rewarded for their efforts and accomplishments. To set goals in the classroom, teachers should reflect on the big picture of their class. Think about what you can and are willing to track. Next, decide on what the rewards can be. Funding may be a factor in making this decision, but rewards do not have to cost money at all. Every classroom is different and every teacher has their own personality. I want to share a classroom reward system that can be adapted to any classroom.
First, students earn points for the grades they make on assignments. The teacher can write the number of points earned (1-4) on the student’s name on the paper. When papers are returned to the student, they rip that corner off and keep the points. This format of issuing points has set criteria (grades), they are secure because they are written on the student’s name, and it teaches responsibility because the students have to keep track of them. The collected points can be turned in for treats, homework passes, bonus points, or privileges. This simple reward system can be a great starting point for a teacher.
Having a positive school climate is not necessary for a positive classroom climate, and teachers who take control of their classrooms will take control of their classroom climate. Positive steps forward are always the best direction to go. Reflect on last year and address the issues that pop into your mind first. These are the big issues. Change starts with the teacher and the students benefit no matter what.